Published on 2012/05/25

The Problem With Backcasting

Backcasting will not act as a crystal ball for organizations, it demands that leaders make decisions and define context. But it will allow organizations to set a plan in place for their firm’s direction. Photo by Garry Knight.

Like many tools backcasting is only as good as the person using it. Poor results are not necessarily the fault of the tool but more the user of the tool. Poor tradesmen always blame their tools, their environment or other people. Using a trained practitioner and facilitator is essential if you are to get tangible results from using backcasting.

Backcasting is not a predictive tool, it’s a journey planner and as with all journeys there are risks. As such, one of the big problems with backcasting is the environment in which it is used and the timing of its use. At times of instability backcasting potentially presents higher risks when developing strategy as it’s based on a linear process and an ideal direction in which to go. However, some proponents of backcasting advocate its use in time of uncertainty and instability, but ultimately its use will depend on the ability of those to use the tool and it has to be remembered it one tool from a whole range of tools and has to be used in conjunction with other tools in your strategic planning tool box. Using the journey metaphor, backcasting is a tool, which provides a direction as the ‘crow flies’ straight there, no bends or obstacles.

All journeys have problems that have to be overcome and sometimes it will be necessary to go in a different direction or take a diversion to get to where you want to go. There may be road works on the way or adverse weather conditions, a paradigm shift in policy, all of which can deflect you from your ultimate goal or delay you on your journey. We live and work in an ever changing and dynamic environment, so backcasting alone is not going to help in some scenarios.

Remembering that backcasting is a visioning tool, not a risk management tool or a project management tool, its strategic not operational, it helps you to identify where you want to go and what it will look like when you get there, but it won’t help you with the operational stuff you will have to deal with on the way.

However, using backcasting together with the change kaleidoscope, will help you identify in detail a significant number of issues you will have to deal with, steps you will have to take in preparation for the journey and or during the journey, but you to have to be honest with yourself in the context of your organizations capabilities to undertake the journey in the first place..


Backcasting is not a predictive tool, it’s not operational it strategy, it does not look at risk and you will have to make assumptions. The process will assume a context, that context will be set by those taking part, unless you define the context as part of the planning and preparation process. Defining the context is an element of the starting point; different context will give different results. If you try setting your future based the current context, you may end up with the same results, it sounds contradictory, but it’s not. You also have more than one contextual setting—internal and external—you can take different views or approaches, systems or process or a combination of both.

The last bit, using any organizational analysis tool is dependent on some very important principles:- honesty, openness, integrity and no hidden agendas. Idealistic maybe. However, if you are a CEO and you’re not honest about the capabilities of your organization, then the only person you’re going to fool is yourself and your efforts in using these tools will be wasted.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Readers Comments

Daniela Thomas 2012/05/25 at 3:21 pm

I feel like this tactic would be extremely efficient when institutions are looking at how they should be shaping programming over the coming years.

Perhaps it’s time we all took a look forward, defined what our particular service niches are, then came back to square 1 and defined how to go about achieving dominance in that niche. No more of this “everything to everyone”, general service business. It’s not working.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *